Dog Bite Liability Insurance for Homeowners
No pet owner wants to believe that his or her furry loved one could possibly cause harm to another. Unfortunately, it does happen frequently. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that four and a half million people are injured by dog bites every year, with 885,000 being severe enough to require medical attention. Many people wind up footing the bills for the injured party's medical bills while others are able to file the claim on their insurance. So, how do you find out if your homeowner's insurance would cover your dog biting someone?
Will My Insurance Cover a Dog Bite?
First, you need to understand that dog bites are only covered under the liability portion of a homeowner's insurance policy. Since liability coverage is only intended for other parties that are injured on your property, your immediate family and household residents won't be covered. So if your dog bites a family member, you would need to use your health insurance for the bills, as there is no coverage on your homeowner's insurance for this type of injury.
Next, you should understand the restrictions of dog bites covered under your liability coverage. Fortunately, most insurance companies will cover dog bite claims if they are aware that you have a dog. However, if your insurer wasn't notified that you own a dog before the claim was filed, or if you have a certain breed of dog, your claim could be denied. Worse yet, your policy may be non-renewed after the claim is filed if your insurer didn't have previous knowledge about your pet.
Furthermore, the amount of coverage your homeowner's policy provides for dog bites is subject to your policy's liability limits. If you have especially low liability limits, you may not have enough coverage for the resulting medical bills incurred after a dog bite injury. To find out what your liability limits are, you can take a look at your policy declarations page, or talk to your agent.
Excluded Dog Breeds
You may not agree with the stigma that certain dog breeds are all bad, but the unfortunate truth is that insurance companies will rarely make exceptions for breeds they deem to be aggressive or violent. Although many insurers will cover dog bites, almost all of them have a list of excluded breeds. What this means is that they will either deny a claim caused by one of these breeds, or in some cases, they may not write a policy if an excluded breed is present on the property.
Some insurers even have a habit of canceling policies if a dog on the property even resembles one of their excluded breeds. Because of this, you shouldn't count on your pooch being given a pass because he or she is a mixed breed and doesn't look like the breed standard. It may not seem fair, but breed exclusions are an increasingly widespread practice amongst insurers since the cost of dog bite liability claims has increased dramatically over the last ten years-- to the tune of over half a million dollars per year. So, what breeds do insurers frequently exclude from homeowner's and renter's liability coverage?
Commonly Excluded Dog Breeds
- Alaskan Malamutes
- Doberman Pinschers*
- German Shepherds*
- Great Danes
- Pit Bulls*
- Presa Canarios
- Siberian Huskies
Note: The breeds marked with an asterisk are most likely to have coverage denied.)
How to Get Insurance With an Excluded Breed Although it may seem impossible to get insurance when you're the owner of an excluded dog breed, you can successfully have your home insured. To do this, you will most likely have to get coverage from a company that specializes in high-risk policies. Unfortunately, using this type of insurer means that your premiums could be much higher than you are accustomed to.
Many of the companies that you see advertise homeowner's insurance on television will restrict or reject your policy coverage with a commonly excluded dog breed present. So to get a policy that will cover your dog, try using a local independent agency. These agents are able to write policies through several different companies and often have access to one or more high-risk carriers.
Unfortunately, removing the dog from the property isn't always a solution for obtaining insurance. Some companies will keep a record of prior policy rejections due to the presence of what they consider to be aggressive dogs. Because of this, they may continue to reject your policy applications even after you have surrendered ownership of the dog in question. If you want to go this route, check to see if you can provide paperwork to your insurer proving that the dog is gone in order to have coverage reinstated. Not all companies will reverse their previous decision to deny coverage.
How to Make Sure You Are Covered
When you first purchased your homeowner's policy, you were probably asked if you own any dogs. If you have adopted a dog since you bought your policy, but haven't notified the company yet, it's a good idea to do so immediately. You'll want to find out if the company has any restrictions towards dogs, what they are, and how they may affect you.
If you already have your dog listed on your homeowner's insurance but aren't sure about possible dog bite exclusions, take a look at your policy first. The annual declarations page you receive in the mail each year at renewal time won't have this information so it will be necessary to pull the original paperwork from when you first purchased the policy. You should have a detailed list of everything that is and isn't covered under your specific policy. In the event you can't find this document, you can request that your insurer send you a new copy.
Finally, you should talk to your insurance agent if you know or suspect that your dog is an excluded breed. Find out if you can buy a supplemental policy such as a Personal Umbrella Policy to provide liability coverage in case you ever need to file a dog bite claim. If this isn't possible, see if your insurer will make an exception based on your dog's age or successful completion of behavioral training. Should you discover that no exception would be granted, ask your agent if they can write a new policy for you or recommend another insurer that does cover your dog's breed.
While some people automatically assume that their homeowner's insurance will cover dog bites, other pet owners never even stop to think about needing this particular liability coverage. It isn't until they file a claim that they discover they have no coverage. Luckily, it is possible to avoid this situation. If you have a dog or plan on getting one in the near future, talk to your insurance agent about any potential implications. As long as you do a little research before a potentially disastrous situation occurs, you should be in the clear for the long run.